Tag Archives: family

Interview with the author of Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home

Happy Friday! I’ve got a special treat for you.

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This is Lara Lillibridge. She likes Joan Jett and writing memoir and people who resist the binary.

Last year, I was at a creative nonfiction conference and met Lara Lillibridge, and we became instant BFFs. Well, we didn’t actually meet at the conference, but I did hear her read from her book, Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home. And immediately tweeted her about wanting to read her book.

Anyway, I suppose that’s how introverts interact at conferences. Writers, am I right?

The BFF thing is totally true though.

Here’s something else that’s true–Lara’s book totally rocks. Like Joan Jett, who we both adore. See, I told you we’re BFFs.

In a nutshell, Girlish is Lara’s memoir about growing up in a house with a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking. Inventively told from the point of view of Girl, Girlish reads like a fairy tale that has gone horribly awry. You’ll find yourself rooting for Girl and a happily-ever-after ending. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she gets one.

Girlish_final coverGirlish confronts such timely topics as feminism, mental illness and gender roles and stereotypes. It’s a must read, not only for gay and lesbian parents and their children, but anyone who has ever struggled with finding their own place in this strange world.

You can pre-order Girlish here.

If you have questions or comments for Lara, please leave them below.

And now, The Flannel Files interview with Lara Lillibridge:

FF: Many Flannel Files followers are lesbian parents. From your personal experience, what was it like growing up with lesbian parents (a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom)? Best part? Worst part?

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So much toast with sugar.

LL: I’m asked this a lot, and you’d think I’d have a good short answer prepared by now, but I don’t. The truth is, day-to-day life was mostly eating toast with sugar, going to school, eating toast with sugar, playing in the backyard, eating more toast with sugar. Our family only seemed different when we encountered other people.  Being bullied for having lesbian moms was definitely the worst part of it, though I wasn’t exactly a trend-setter fashion-wise anyway. I suspect I would have been bullied regardless, but there is something special about being bullied about your sexual orientation, or your parents’ sexual orientation.

I think as an adult one thing I appreciate is how I don’t have the same built-in stereotypes about queer people that many people—including many queer people—have. Sure, I got fed the same societal BS everyone is fed, but it was countered by my parents and our community of lesbian friends. So I don’t have any of that negative judgement ingrained in me that so many people fight against.

FF: You write about being raised to defy the norms of society. Was this a good or bad thing? How does how you were raised seep into who you are today?

LL: First of all I didn’t exactly choose to be different. I wasn’t necessarily being defiant as much as oblivious. I’d like to think of myself as bravely going against popular opinion, but it wasn’t the case. Left to my own devices, I don’t know how defiant I would have been. Yet, there was more good that came of it, I think. To this day, I have trouble understanding why people get all caught up in what other people think, particularly about sexuality and gender, outside of safety issues. I had a lot of repercussions for being different, but living through the experience gave me the certainty that I can take it and keep going.

FF: How have your experiences affected your own parenting style?

LL: I totally shelter my children as much as possible—pretty much the opposite of how I was raised. I suspect the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, but I’m not there yet.

FF: I’m curious about the title of your book, Girlish. You refer to yourself in the book as “Girl,” so why the title Girlish?

LL: The original title was Girl, and when I was working on the cover design I did a google search to see what books it would be listed near on Amazon. Much to my chagrin, there was another memoir titled Girl with a gorgeous cover similar to the original look I was going for. My critique partner suggested Girlish as a play on both being girly and not-quite a girl at the same time.

FF: What are you watching these days (TV or movies)? Who’s your Hollywood (or non-Hollywood) crush?

LL: I’m currently watching Jessica Jones, Sneaky Pete, Madam Secretary and Designated Survivor. I’m a binge watcher, so I tend to eat through online series as quickly as possible.

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Sara Ramirez as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary

Crushes…I should give a disclaimer that personality colors how I see people, and since I don’t know these people IRL, they might be total shit balls and then I wouldn’t see them the same way anymore. But if we’re talking just a physical beauty kind of crush, I recently discovered this model named Tzef Montana who is gorgeous. I kind of have a thing for Sara Ramirez, but only as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary—not as the long-haired Callie in Grey’s Anatomy. I like people who resist the binary.

FF: If you could make one law, what would it be?

LL: I meant to say something cute about all people being given kinkajous to carry around, but the school shootings and overall gun violence has so broken my heart that it has to be addressed. While I have some ideas, I’d really like to form a brain trust to attack the issue from multiple angles. It’s bigger than just one law.

FF: Who are the authors who have inspired and influenced you? Who are you reading these days?

LL: I’d like to have a retreat with Jeanette Winterson, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maggie Nelson, and Jenny Boully. I’d just sit at their feet and eat cookies and listen to them talk amongst themselves.

FF: I would be right there with you but with a bag of cheese curls.

LL: I’m currently reading an ARC of the novel THE ONES WE CHOOSE by Julie Clark that is scheduled for release May 8, 2018. It’s a great story about an intentionally single mother and is filled with all sorts of scientific stuff that makes me feel smart and fills me with wonder for the natural world. Check out this line, “…mtDNA does not combine with genes inherited from your other parent but is passed on, whole to you. It will live inside of you—the story of your mother, and her mother, and all the mothers who came before.” That gave me goosebumps.

I’m also reading MODERN GIRLS by Jennifer Brown with my mother. My mother and I have had a strained relationship as my memoir’s release date got closer, so she and I are doing this family book club thing where we are both reading this book simultaneously so we can talk about the characters instead of talking about our family.

FF: What’s your next project? 

LL: I have a zillion projects going on.

I’m about ready to shop my second memoir, Mama, Mama, Only Mama! It’s a humorous book about parenting after divorce, and encompasses my six years as a single mother and our transition into cohabitating with my SigO, who never had children.

I also have a series of children’s books I’m working on about my moms’ travel adventures. I think kids need books with queer characters that aren’t supposed to be life lessons in diversity, but rather are interesting books who just happen to have queer people in them.

I’m working on a draft of a novel that explores sexual mores and gender, but that’s sort of on the back burner at the moment while I figure out how to become better at writing fiction.

Lastly, I’m writing a story just for my family that I read to my kids every night at bedtime. They are interested in my career as a writer, but are too young to read Girlish, so I wanted them to have something they could be vested in—they are my first readers, and they like to give me advice about the plot and characters, though I don’t always take it. I still hate to be told what to do.

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A Christmas miracle flannel style

‘Twas perhaps the merriest Christmas of all for Flannel Santa had run out on Christmas Eve to buy a few extra gifts for the kiddos.

You see, Flannel Santa had been struck by the Christmas Spirit and had extra cash to burn.

Of course, Flannel Santa bought new flannel shirts for the lads.

A belt and hat for one, a leather wallet for another.

And 12 packs of Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew for all.

On Christmas Day, the youth wore their shiny new flannel shirts.

So, soft and warm! they exclaimed.

And Flannel Santa beamed with pride.

The day couldn’t get any better.

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I’ve got one hand in my pocket … because my flannel shirt has pockets!!

But then Flannel Santa reached into the sack-o-Santa stuff and pulled out one last gift. One last flannel shirt.

The shirt was red and black checked. Perfect for Christmas Day.

Thick and warm and as soft as Sofia Vergara’s hair.

The shirt fit Flannel Santa like a glove (except it was a shirt).

And Flannel Santa smiled.

But ho, ho, ho, what was this?

Pockets? In a flannel shirt?

Pockets!

Pockets!

Pockets!

It was a Christmas miracle—a flannel shirt with pockets. Which made this the merriest Christmas of all!

* * *

Here’s hoping your Christmas was filled with surprises. And perhaps a new flannel shirt with or without pockets, if that’s your jam.

How I decided to not be a Grinch this year

“Let’s not get a Christmas tree this year,” I say to W. “We’re too busy to get one and set it up. The kids won’t enjoy it, because they never come out of their rooms. Plus, we can save the $100.”

“Oh,” she says in a quiet voice. “This might be the last Christmas we have in our house with the kids.”

But her voice is soft so I know I’ve won. No traveling to the Christmas tree farm, overpaying for a tree, lugging it home and into the house. No making sure it’s perfectly straight, stringing the lights, placing the ornaments just so and yelling at the cats to get the hell out of the goddamn tree. No boxing up the decorations and dragging the tree to the curb some weekend in January when the branches have started to droop and vacuuming pine needles for weeks and weeks and weeks, even though the tree has been long gone and is now barely a memory of Christmas past.

downloadI rub my hands together and smile a big smile.

I feel a little bit bad. But I’m busy. So busy. With work. And other things. My manuscript is due in January and I’m freaking out. I haven’t written a blog post in for-ev-er.

Three days before Christmas, I start feeling a tad more bad.

Because W deserves better. She deserves a Christmas tree.

So when she is out for the evening, my son and I drive to a nursery and get a tree like we used to do in the old days, pre-W.

All of the trees are $45. My son wants a Charlie Brown tree, but I’m paying so I pick out a not too big, not too small tree with a straight spine.

imagesShe’s tall and slim with excellent posture like Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.

“It’s not going to fit in our car,” my son says.

“It’ll fit in the trunk,” I say. “Don’t you remember how we used to carry our trees in the trunk of our car.”

He says he doesn’t. He always says he doesn’t remember.

The kid at the nursery binds the tree and starts jamming it in the trunk of my Nissan Altima. He looks a little like the Grinch shoving Cindy Lou Who’s tree up the chimney for repair.

Hela barely fits in the trunk of my car. My son and I smile big goofy smiles at each other as the kid struggles with the tree. His smile saying see I told you. My smile saying see I told you, too.

On the way home, my son says we should have saved the $45.

“It’s a waste of time and money,” he says. “It’s going to take you two or three hours to get it set up.”

“One or one and a half,” I correct him. “But that’s not the point. It will make W happy,” I say.

I don’t tell him my secret wish for him. That I hope someday he has someone in his life who is worth such expense and bother.

He shrugs his shoulders.

“Plus, I got to pick out a tree with you,” I add.

At home, he helps me put the tree in the stand.

He doesn’t want to cut the plastic netting and watch the tree spread its arms or help string the lights or put on the star like he used to. He’s 18 not 8, and I ache for those 10 years.

IMG_2164I take my time and wind three strands of lights around Hela. When I’m done, I pull the lights to the front of the branches, the way W likes them.

Next, I put on the string of purple beads that W always had on her tiny tree in her Philadelphia apartment. Back then, I thought it was a strange—purple beads on a Christmas tree. Now, our tree doesn’t seem complete without them.

I place the silver star on the highest branch. A gold star below it.

The silver star was the one W always placed on her tree. The gold star was the one my son and used to decorate our tree.

When the kids were young, they would fight over which star we should use. We always used both to keep the peace. Now, it’s tradition.

I wait up for W, admiring my handiwork: a skinny tree with lights and purple beads and a silver star and a gold star.

“Oh,” she says when she comes home.

“I was going to ask you if we could get a tree,” she says.

“I’m sorry I’m such a Grinch,” I say. “I don’t mean to be.”

I kiss her.

“I know,” she says. “But you usually come around.”

She cries a tiny bit.

download (1).jpgAnd I feel good. Like my heart has grown three sizes today.

* * *

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

(Especially you Grinches out there! You know who you are!)

Dads and daughters

images[2]Growing up as a tomboy (or mini-butch), my dad taught me how to do the important things in life:

  • Fish.

Keep score at a baseball game.

Throw a split finger fastball.

Shoot pool.

Tie a necktie.

Shoot a layup.

Cook breakfast.

Be loyal.

Be patient.

Never force things.

Work hard.

Keep calm (before it was even a thing).

And always listen to your wife.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

* * *

What did your dad teach you?

 

Sleeping with drag queens

images[2]If my calculations are correct, W and I have been sleeping in the same bed for about seven years. Not continuously like we are in the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Although that idea always seemed appealing when I was younger and depressed.

On Friday, the kid will have been in the hospital for three weeks, save the three days he spent at home. W has stayed with him every night, which means our bed is empty when I turn in.

I pile clean laundry and things to take to the hospital on W’s side of the bed to keep it from seeming so empty.

IMG_0190I look at our pillowcases that say “Big Spoon” and “Little Spoon” and wonder when the Big Spoon will be coming home. Yes, folks, I’m butch enough to admit that I’m usually the little spoon.

One of our cats is so distraught over W’s absence that he cries and deposits random items in a pile in the middle of the bed — socks, a cloth to polish shoes, cat toys. I’m not sure where he’s finding these items. I’m pretty sure some of them aren’t even ours.

At night, I stay up way too late and watch mindless TV shows — Shark Tank, Teen Mom 2, Bar Rescue, Catfish — until I am so tired I pass out.

imagesSWB6O19BFor some strange reason, I find RuPaul’s Drag Race especially soothing and often find myself falling asleep to “I’m Every Woman” or some other disco tune and instructions to “sashay away.” Because drag queens always make me feel better. The are like a Band-Aid — a sequined Band-Aid with rhinestones and wigs and high heels.

This new habit has made for some very weird dreams.

When I was a kid and my grandmother visited, she always slept in my double bed with me.

This was weird and annoying for a variety of reasons but mostly because my grandmother slept with a transistor radio that she kept on until she fell asleep.

It was an old radio, one of my grandfather’s, and seemed unable to broadcast anything but static.

My grandmother loved music but always listened to the news on her handheld radio.

I used to think she was an old lady way too interested in what was happening in the world.

But when I got older, I realized she missed my grandfather, who had passed away years before, and it was impossible for her to fall asleep without some kind of distraction.

I wonder what it was about the sound of the radio that soothed her. If the buzz reminded her of his rhythmic breathing or snoring or if she just needed noise, any noise, to fill the void he had left behind.

So with that, I’m going to sashay to bed. Just me and the cats and a gaggle of drag queens. That’s what you call a group of drag queens, right?

* * *

What about you? How do you sleep when your significant other is away?

 

When gender does not compute

Smoking laptopAt W’s family reunion, we sit inside an old firehouse at long tables covered with vinyl tablecloths. At the end of one of the tables, a woman with a laptop is trying to piece together the family tree.

This year, W and I are legally married. This year, my name can go on the tree.

W leaves me to sit with the lady with the laptop and give her my information.

She is gone a long time.

“Her software won’t let you be a girl,” she tells me when she returns.

“Story of my life,” I reply.

Giving thanks

Happy ThanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving Eve, and we’re busy preparing for tomorrow.  When all is said and done, there will be 15 of us sitting down to turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Six years ago, W and I had been dating for about a year when she suggested that we host Thanksgiving together.  We would use my apartment because it was roomier and invite both our families.

She looked at me with those big brown eyes and smiled that big smile.  What was a butch to do?

I thought it was a crazy idea.  Our families had never met.  In my family, “pass the crescent rolls” means someone will throw one in your direction.  There was so much that could go wrong above and beyond superficial crescent roll-related injuries.

imagesNCWFCGVNBut I was in love, and love makes people do crazy things.

So, we bought groceries and set up card tables, and W cooked.

I wore my best flannel.

It was a great Thanksgiving.

We’ve hosted Thanksgiving as a couple ever since, although now we do it in the house that we share.  Both of our families come and enjoy each other’s company.

We have certain traditions:  There’s the pumpkin-shaped ceramic dish that W likes to use to serve the crescent rolls.  The baking of the pumpkin bread that has been passed down from W’s grandmom to our youngest boy.  W makes stuffing early in the morning, fries up a small sample, and we all have a taste.  I’m probably biased, but W makes the best stuffing in the world.  My dad brings and pours the wine.  The good stuff.

Thanksgiving has always been W’s favorite holiday.  She’s always hosted it at her house.

I would tell you that now Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too.  But I don’t want to sound all soft and mushy and sentimental.  That’s not very butch.

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Inside, I’m just like this.

Maybe tomorrow for at least a few moments I’ll let myself be a little soft and mushy in the inside — like mashed potatoes.  I’ll think back to that first Thanksgiving, and I’ll give thanks.  Thanks for family and friends.  A roof over my head and clothes on my back.  A feast to share with those I love best.  And stuffing.  Thanks for stuffing.

But I’ll give a special thanks to W for giving me a push to open up and dream big and live life and let others in.

* * *

Happy Thanksgiving!  What are you thankful for?